You will be asked about your symptoms, and medical and family history. A complete physical exam will be done. Your skin will be thoroughly examined. A dermatoscope is used to magnify skin lesions so they are easier to evaluate. Your doctor may suspect melanoma based on the skin exam. Many cases of melanoma are found during a physical exam or during a self-exam of your skin at home.
Melanoma is confirmed with a skin biopsy. A sample of the suspicious tissue will be taken and examined under a microscope for the presence of cancer cells. A local anesthetic is used before taking the sample to eliminate pain during the procedure.
Types of skin biopsies:
If melanoma has spread down into the dermis it may spread to nearby lymph nodes. A lymph node biopsy involves removing lymph tissue for examination under a microscope. If cancer cells are found, it indicates that melanoma has spread beyond the mole.
Types of lymph node biopsies:
If melanoma is confirmed, results from completed tests and new tests will help determine the stage of cancer. Staging is used to determine characteristics of the tumor that will help develop the prognosis and treatment plan. Factors that play a role in staging include how far the original tumor has spread, whether lymph nodes are involved, and microscopic cellular details.
Tests that may help determine melanoma stage:
Melanoma is staged from 0-IV:
General information about melanoma. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/skin/patient/melanoma-treatment-pdq. Updated March 10, 2017. Accessed March 16, 2017.
Melanoma. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115302/Melanoma. Updated January 10, 2017. Accessed March 16, 2017.
Melanoma skin cancer changes. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/melanoma-skin-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/melanoma-skin-cancer-stages.html. Updated May 20, 2016. Accessed March 16, 2017.
Stages of melanoma. National Cancer Institute website. Available at:https://www.cancer.gov/types/skin/patient/melanoma-treatment-pdq#section/_96. Updated March 10, 2017. Accessed March 16, 2017.
Tests for melanoma skin cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/melanoma-skin-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/how-diagnosed.html. Updated May 20, 2016. Accessed March 16, 2017.
Last reviewed March 2017 by Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP Last Updated: 10/18/2016